Friday 1 March 2013

Open Mind

Interesting news that people who experience several common mental illnesses - autism, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, and schizophrenia - share genetic characteristics. See the story here.

Hafal's friend and one of the researchers Nick Craddock, professor of psychiatry at Cardiff University, says: "It signals the opening of a potential new era for psychiatry and mental illness. This is a scientific method that helps understand what is going wrong in the brain, the chemicals, the brains systems, that are important in illness." He said that ultimately it could help devise treatments and better ways of diagnosing patients.

Of course what this leaves open is the relative importance of environmental experiences in comparison with genetic make-up. Put crudely if you were to identify a gene which everybody with schizophrenia (say) has (and nobody else) then you might prove that the illness was wholly caused by genetic make-up. If, on the other hand, you identified a gene which all people with schizophrenia share but so do twenty times that number of people without schizophrenia then you might be looking at a position where only certain people can ever get the illness but their chances of getting it may still be very largely down to environmental circumstances. At present nothing is as certain as these wholly speculative examples which I only use to make a point.

The important thing is to keep an open mind, neither rubbishing the significance of nurture in the desire to nail down an uncomplicated genetic cause, nor condemning genetic investigation through a Laingian obsession with the role of families and society. Patients want a pragmatic approach which brings full recovery ever nearer.

This point, and its significance for choosing treatments, is well laid out by Hafal here.